The Best Way to Live

Nov 25, 2011 |Kara Schwab

What's the one thing you like most about the people you most like?  

Have you ever overheard a conversation that you couldn't help listen to because the people talking were so loud you initially thought they must be hard of hearing but soon realized they were just totally drunk out of their gourds, drooling beer out of the corners of their mouths when they laughed? I have. Boy, who needs bad reality TV when you can hear a real-life drunken and shallow conversation at a local family restaurant.

This loud guy and his loud date were discussing what they found most attractive in the opposite sex. "Height," she said, taking a swig of her microbrew. "I like 'em real tall," she added and put her hand up as high as it would go over her head. Apparently she's attracted to a man if she can barely touch the top of his head with her right hand.

"Long necks." Her date responded. "Yeah, that really does it for me."

"Big brown eyes," she added and giggled.

I rolled my eyes and leaned over to my friend I was dining with and asked her, "Do you think they're attracted to giraffes?"

On our way home we talked about what qualities really matter in a person — not just something that attracts you toward the opposite sex, but what draws you to anyone. We said we both like "realness."

"And humility," my friend added.

"Yes, and integrity," I responded.

"A good sense of humor." She went on.

"Definitely," I agreed. "And gratefulness."

"Gratefulness?" my friend questioned. "Grateful that he or she gets to hang out with you?" she asked sarcastically.

"Well, obviously," I laughed. "But, of course, there's more to it than that. Have you ever been around a person who is just really grateful? Think about it. They live as if they truly understand that life is an amazing gift. They don't assume they deserve anything — so everything good they experience is viewed as a blessing, not a right. Talk about refreshing."

After talking about it a bit, my friend totally agreed. There is something radiant about people who view life as a gift, and who are grateful for the little things. The dictionary says "grateful" is an adjective, but describes it almost like a verb, using such phrases as, "appreciative of benefits received; expressing thankfulness." And it's true. Gratefulness can't help but be shown or expressed. It's a feeling that alters your living — it makes you smile and clutch your chest a bit ... humbling you. It changes how you see things, and how you treat others. It compels you to think what life would be like without the thing you're grateful for, and reminds you of how blessed you are.

It's the number one quality I will encourage my daughters to look and pray for in a husband. They're preschoolers now, so they shouldn't feel totally pressed for time. But when they're older, I will say, "Ladies, find yourself a Jesus-lovin' grateful man."

Meanwhile, my girls are just beginning to comprehend the concept of gratefulness. Developmentally, I think it happens right around 3 or 4. A couple years earlier when a child is starting to express himself verbally, he is taught the importance of thankfulness. During this phase, parents probably tell their little one to "Say 'Thank you'" a million times a day. (There's only one command that's used even more frequently: "Don't put that in your mouth, it's yucky.")

These days my girls only need an occasional reminder to say "thank you," usually in public when I'm hoping to show off their manners and instead they regress and act like wild bear cubs clawing the Starbucks dessert case. But most days I'm transitioning from instructing them to say "thank-you" to teaching them to be grateful. For instance, it's not uncommon for one of them to say to me, "Thank you for my yummy Slurpee, Mommy. Now may I have some ice cream?" And I'll say, "Uh, hello. No you may not have ice cream. You just had a Slurpee. Be grateful for the Slurpee."

I had to say something like that the other day while driving in our car. My little Addison responded, "Well, Mommy, you know what grateful means?"

And I said, "I think I do. Do you know what it means?"

Addison answered confidently, "Yes. Grateful means when I do good and I'm happy for God and that makes me real happy." (I swerved off the road to write it down on a gas station receipt, because I thought it was just too cute.)

I guess I never really thought about being happy for God when I do something well. But I know how thrilled I am when my children obey, so I guess I can imagine God's happiness and paternal pride when I follow His commands.

But it's not just obedience that makes God happy. I think about the story in the Bible where Jesus had mercy on 10 lepers and told them to go and show the priests that they'd been cleansed. Before they had actually been healed, each one obeyed and left. The Message says "One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God" (Luke 17:14b,15). I always feel so crushed for Jesus when I read this. "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?" He says, totally disappointed. My version of the Bible would interpret Christ's words as, "Good golly! Where are the nine ingrates I also healed?"

While I'm sure Jesus appreciated their initial obedience and trust in His ability to heal them, I'm always saddened to think that He was affected by their ingratitude. Of course, then I begin to think about my own ingratitude to God's mercy. Would I have been the leper who walked back to Jesus and dropped to my knees before Him with a grateful heart? Or would I have been one of the nine who were too caught up in their blessing and in telling others about what God had done to remember to really thank Jesus Himself. Who best describes you?

Perhaps we all could be a little more grateful in our daily lives. Maybe we could start by giving thanks to God for the little things He's given us. Then praise Him for the big things He's done. Some of us may need to ask Him to change our hearts to be grateful for the closed doors He's shut in our lives, or for the relationships He's protected us from.

I like to pray through the Psalms — almost every verse seems to stir up a grateful heart in me (except for those that talk about crushing the wicked's head against a stone or hoping the children of my enemies would become wandering beggars, Selah — those verses just tend to get me worked up). But praying through (most of) the Psalms helps me focus on God's goodness to me ... and I can't help but be grateful.

When your heart is grateful, you'll not only please God, but you'll be pleased as well. You'll discover something changes in you. You slow down a bit. You care less about the things that don't matter and care more for the things that do. You'll find yourself smiling more — even at your inadequacies. You'll discover rest in a difficult circumstance. And your grateful heart will affect those around you.

Gratefulness is definitely one of my favorite admirable character traits in a human being. But aside from that, it's an essential part of our faith that helps us experience the fullness of salvation God desires for us. In fact, being grateful is much more than a virtuous quality in one's personality. It's the best way to live life.

Copyright 2005 Kara Schwab. All rights reserved.

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